The Canucks worked very hard in the offseason to alter a future mired in the bottom of the league that most people had resigned them to, and at the same time try to regain the form this proud franchise is accustomed to. A lot of progress has been made, but no one is considering the mission accomplished.
The sweeping changes have been well documented, but if real success is to come, it will be as much about the identity of the team as it is about their performance on the ice, because who you are plays a large role in how you act.
Moving Kesler fell in line with this thinking, you can’t have someone around that doesn’t want to be here, it’s exactly the attitude they are looking to change. Sure he was worth more, but is it worth it to the team to carry around someone hoping to get a better deal, all the while having his attitude rub off on newcomers? No thanks.
The new management group understands this, much ado has been made by Benning and Linden about the importance of changing the culture of the team, and they are headed in the right direction.
And if you are the Vancouver Canucks, you can move a long ways forward by going just a little ways back, when the character of the team was its strongest attribute. This new Canuck team is being put together piece by piece, and some of it is in place. It has a brain and vision, but still needs a critical internal component before it can ever be complete. And the prototype for it is Brendan Morrison.
A Subtle But Significant Shift
Before we look at what we need to improve and how to do it, we need to examine what’s wrong and how it occurred.
It wasn’t that long ago that Canuck fans had a great deal to cheer about. Consistent division titles and playoff appearances, and realistic hopes of seeing the Stanley Cup make an appearance on Robson Street in front of masses of adoring fans.
But somewhere along the way they transformed into a team that people described using words like “cocky” and “swagger”.
Typically, teams that accurately meet the description of those words fall short of winning championships, because it’s just this side of having an ego problem, which rarely works out for anyone. More often than not, it just fuels the opposition to play harder against you, and makes an already arduous journey that much more difficult.
Very few teams, or even people, can adopt a style of arrogance and have success. Boxer Muhammad Ali was a rare exception, because he actually was the greatest. But he was in an individual sport, to have an entire team composed of such personalities is a recipe for disaster. History is littered with people who talk about how great they are and then don’t deliver. It is much easier to find a Chad Ochocinco Johnson out there than it is a Muhammad Ali.
Class and dignity will get you a long way. Those words were the hallmark of the dominant Montreal Canadiens teams of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, led by players like Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard. They took the high road and it led them to championships, where their greatness was described in other people’s words, not their own.
Previous generations of Canadiens set the bar for the future teams, basing it on a quiet dignity and focus on the task at hand. And that’s where Brendan Morrison comes in, because he set this example in Vancouver for future Canucks to follow.
Unassuming And Extremely Effective.
When you look at the successful Canuck teams from not long ago, you see a trend in the personalities of the players. This key period in time included players like Linden, the Sedins, Naslund, Jovonovski, Baron, Klatt, Ohlund, Cloutier and Sopel, to name a few. The organization was well respected and they were winning on the ice.
Yes, they had a captain that led them in Markus Naslund, but on any good team the captain is essentially the voice of the majority. Lost in the dazzle of the West Coast Express line and all the riches it provided was the leadership of Brendan Morrison.
For the most part, Morrison was underappreciated in the role he played on the team, both on the ice and as a representative in the community. He was a bridge between the rookies and the vets, a navigator you could always count on to keep the ship away from the shoals.
Linden and Naslund were always credited for their roles as leaders on the Canucks, and they deserved all the praise they got. They were at the forefront and the press would always seek them out, so their accomplishments became more obvious.
At the core of the team was Morrison, whose contributions always seemed to fly a little under the radar, though he was always making time for media and fans whenever possible. He was not a rah-rah cheerleader type who was constantly making speeches. He preferred quality over quantity, and as a result when he did speak it was impactful. The rest of the time he was leading by example both on and off the ice.
He was a talented player, who for a glorious period was one of the best in the league on the top line in hockey. And don’t kid yourself, his attitude magnified his skills and helped him reach lofty heights. 601 points over 934 games is a career stat most players would be proud to own.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Morrison would display these qualities after spending 4 years playing at the University of Michigan under Red Berenson. Being coached by a respected legend like that will leave an impression, as evidenced by Brendan winning the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey in 1997. He’s also the person he is because his parents, Ron and Deborah, raised him that way.
If the Canucks are serious about a transfusion of the blood of the team, they would be wise to have Brendan’s DNA flowing through their circulatory system.
They have a good group of young talent that will benefit immensely from the examples he has provided, and the earlier you introduce them the better off you are. Because if you carry yourself like a winner you are that much closer to being a winner.
Morrison left behind lessons that emphasized talent is nothing without the foundation of a hard work ethic and an appreciation for the opportunities you have, and it would be wise for our future players to emulate this completely.
As It Stands Today
At present Brendan is enjoying success with his pal Geoff Sanderson, living in Calgary and running a company supplying rig matting to oil companies. He’s finally able to make use of that Economics degree he earned at the U of Michigan, and is enjoying life in the city of a team that he briefly played for. No doubt those same traits he displayed in hockey are serving him well in the business world.
He played in a few organizations but the Canucks are always going to be his team, much the same way it was for Linden. Players come and go, and usually that’s a good thing, as it normally leads to progress.
And things definitely changed in Vancouver, but it wasn’t always for the better. Evolution shouldn’t come at the cost of what made you successful in the first place, and for a few years that’s what happened on Griffiths Way.
Part of that was corrected when the team brought back Captain Canuck to help guide the blue and green into the unknown. The Canucks had the vision to re-acquire the heart of the team in Trevor Linden, now if they can just capture the soul of Brendan Morrison, the unwritten future will be a lot more promising.